Two Words: Coleman Francis

I like bad movies. No, that’s an understatement. I like shitty movies. Real crap. Now, there are people that will name all sorts of supposedly bad movie directors: John Waters, Renny Harlin, Ed Wood… but absolutely no one ever made such magnificent turds as the late Coleman Francis. If I were a meaner-spirited person, I would say that it’s a good thing that Coleman Francis is no longer among the living. I might say that it’s a good thing that god decided to end his life so that he is no longer able to force his cinematic swill onto the movie-going public. I might have said that, if I were that kind of person. Like many horrible movie watchers, like myself, I saw my first Coleman Francis movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie was “Red Zone Cuba”. If there is some dictionary that has moving images along with the definitions, the word “unwatchable” would be accompanied by this movie. There are almost no words to describe what this movie does to me. It’s kind of like when there’s an accident right in fromt of you and the only thing you can think is to stare wide-eyed making all sorts of monosylabic sounds and giggles. There are so many things wrong with this movie that you can’t name just one thing. First off is the plot itself. Three middle aged men somehow get hornswaggled into volunteering to invade Cuba with a force of, if this movie is historically accurate, about six men. Six equally physically not-adept men. Equally so, it’s amazing how someone could take one of history’s most politically stirring events, the Cuban Missile crisis, and turn it into a film that watching it ranks only slightly preferable to a swift knee to the groin. There are no words to describe the absolute pain this film will inflict on you. I thought, since I have made it my business to think of all things philosophically, how either this movie, or its creator can be analyzed through the philosophic lens. Kant said that we have certain moral duties not only to others, but to ourselves as well. One of his duties to self is to not let our talents rust. If we have a certain ability to do something, it is wrong to not do it. So, if I had an ability to run as fast as the wind, I would be doing myself a moral disservice to not use my talent to do something. (what that something is, I have no idea). Ok, so let’s say that our dear departed Mr. Francis thought that he had a talent for filmmaking. So, if he didn’t make “The Beast Of Yucca Flats” he would have actually been committing a moral wrong by not doing so. Ok, so according to the Kantian, he’s in the clear. But, is it possible that doing your Kantian moral duty is so dreadfully wrong according to another moral theory? Not only wrong, but impermissible? That making shitty movies is a moral threat to everyone? What would the utilitarian say? Ok, so let’s say that Coleman Francis releases his movie. And it’s dreadful. People actually experience unhappiness when they see this film — and not the good unhappiness like after seeing “Sophie’s Choice”, or after listening to a good Cure cd, but real unhappiness. In fact, you can say that it’s unhappiness bordering on pain. Physical pain. So, if we’re following Bentham, we need only to consider the amount of pleasure we are losing whenever we see a Coleman Francis film. We discover that we would be happier if we don’t see movies like “Red Zone Cuba”. The best thing to do, we may say, is to stop the production of bad movies. After devising an actual method of determining what a truly awful movie is, we decide to implement the stop crappy movies program. No more bad movies means more happiness for all. But is this right? Even though I’m happier that I won’t ever have to see another Roland Emmerich movie again there is still something nagging at my conscience. I’m suddenly thinking about my happiness coming at someone else’s expense. Somehow I feel that I am denying someone their happiness. And worse yet, I’m suddenly hearing Kant yelling imperfect duties to self in my head. So, are we doing something wrong when we tell people that the visualization of their talent isn’t so good for the rest of us? Should we continue to let a bad filmmaker like Coleman Francis make his art if not for his own happiness but because he has moral obligations to himself that demand that he continue to make rotten movies? This question, of course, goes beyond Coleman Francis and his movies. Is it possible that our duty according to a moral theory — and not even a competing theory — end up not being the right thing to do? And what if it’s not a matter of moral wrongs, but a matter of someone who just isn’t as talented as they might think that they are? Should we encourage him to let his talents rust for the sake of the net happiness of all or does the Kantian view of “talent” have anything to do with quality at all? I don’t watch “American Idol” (no one does, right?), but I realize that there are at least a couple pf people who aren’t plants put there to sing badly for our entertainment. Some people actually think that they have a real gift for singing. So, they go on the show, just to have their dream crushed by the acid tongue of Simon Cowell. And so, after a public lashing, they decide to give up their dream of a life on the stage. We might think, hurray! score one for the utilitarian. NO crappy music. But, did Kant tell us that we had to be good at that talent? Is it a matter of only putting the things that we are good at to use, or is it the idea that we should pursue what we may feel is a calling? Maybe if the no-talent on “American Idol” wasn’t humiliated on national television, they would have pursued a career singing to the homeless at soup kitchens, which would have in turn, lifted the spirits of some homeless people, who, although the voice wasn’t the best voice, it was a voice of someone who cared enough to get up and try to lighten a few spirits. Perhaps the real moral wrong was Simon’s cruel comments, which in the long run, caused less happiness overall (the problem with utilitarianism is that it’s horrible at predicting long-range goods and harms). My god, where was I? Was I anywhere? My point is, if I had one, is that Coleman Francis is a bad filmmaker. And that after I watch his movies, I really do feel real pain (usually in my gut), but the fact that watching his films has enabled me to write this one entry has, in some way, benefitted me. And because I am continuing to think philosophically about life and stuff, I am benefitting my fellow man (it’s a stretch, but it sounds nice). The films of Coleman Francis and all who follow his lead are the silver lining on this cinematic storm cloud. A storm cloud with a top end made of poo.

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